I was assigned to sub in a 4th-grade regular ed classroom today, covering for a teacher who had a last-minute absence. Not a problem, it happens from time to time.
The language arts lesson was a story called "The Gold Rush," an "expository non-fiction" piece. My reaction, when I saw this, was, "oh, crap! A 'covered wagon' story." Kids here know nothing about history. Nothing. If there were a word for less than nothing, that's actually how much they know.
The first paragraph of the story, which was only three or four sentences long, described how the population of the eastern states in the 1800s was considerably greater than that of the western states. I'll spare you the gruesome details pertaining to the laborious process through which we struggled to discern the "main idea" of the paragraph. It was... challenging.
Then I asked the class of about 20 10-year old 4th-grade regular ed students to name an eastern state.
"Canada!" was the first response.
"Nice try. Canada is a country. We're looking for a state."
"Uhm... North America is a continent. Can anyone name an east coast state?"
I swear, I am not making this up.
"Hamburg is a city. A city in Germany! Forget the east coast thing. Just name a state? Any state, except Hawaii, which is where we are."
Twenty kids. I called on every one of them. I got three states. California, New York, and Georgia. I got four continents, a handful of countries (including Turkey), and several cities. But only three states.
I stopped the story. We took out folder paper, numbered it from 1 to 50, and wrote down the names of all the states.
If I were to bring this up with the other teachers, or with admin, I have little doubt the response would be, "U.S. geography is not a fourth-grade standard." This, despite the fact that at every meeting admin is harping at us about being a STEM-G school: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Geography.
NASA is pouring their money down the toilet by funding us as a NASA Explorer School.
I would counter the "not a 4th-grade standard" with, "reading comprehension is the standard I've been tasked to teach, and they can't comprehend stories about states if they don't know what a freaking state is!" That would be LA 4.1.1, Use Grade-Appropriate Vocabulary.... I would posit that the names of the states are "grade appropriate vocabulary."
But what the hell do I know?
Just for the record, the 4th-grade Social Studies standards include stuff like:
SS 4.7.1: Identify the major geographic characteristics and demographics of the pre-contact Hawaiian archipelago, including its relative location to other major land masses.
Like that's gonna help you out in college. And that "relative location to other major land masses" thing is pretty funny if you think about it in light of today's shining example of geographic acumen.
In case you're thinking maybe they shoulda learned about states and stuff in the third grade, here's a representative third-grade benchmark:
· 3.8.1: Limited Resources and Choice: Explain that opportunity cost is the best alternative given up when making a choice.
Erm... I didn't learn about "opportunity cost" until college! Maybe I'm the stupid one here. Who needs to know the names of the stinkin' states when you can describe the comparative demographics of the Hawaiian archipelago couched in microeconomic terms?
I can just imagine the blank looks I'd get from the students if I tossed out the term "archipelago." I shall try it tomorrow, right before I quiz them on "opportunity cost."
Twenty kids. Three states.
And three pages to go before we even get to the covered wagon part.